Opening up It is said that around the time King Abdulaziz founded Saudi Arabia, in 1932, he pronounced: "My Kingdom will survive only insofar as it remains a country difficult to access, where the foreigner will have no other aim, with his task fulfilled, but to get out." The kingdom seems to have stayed pretty much on-message, with foreign tourists, especially those not on a pilgrimage, never being strongly encouraged to sample its cultural delights. Lonely Planet published a guide to Saudi Arabia (right) in 2004, but it was not very successful and is now out of print. Detailed travel information is apparently now so hard to come by that sellers are asking well over HK$1,000 each for new copies on Amazon. Things may be about to change, however, with news emerging that authorities are about to issue tourist visas for the first time. In what it describes as a "shot in the arm" for the tourism industry, the Arab News website reports that "The Council of Ministers has entrusted the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities with the task of issuing tourist visas on the basis of certain regulations approved by the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs." There seems to be some confusion as to whether these visas will be available to all, or only as an extension of those offered to pilgrims, but if they are to be issued freely, it will also be a shot in the arm for Cathay Pacific's four-times-weekly Riyadh service. Into Africa Bangkok-based Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas has just ventured beyond Asia for the first time, with the opening of the Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort & Spa in Mozambique. In fact it's more a rebranding than an opening, as until recently the property was known as the Indigo Bay Island Resort & Spa. How much of a makeover the resort has received is unclear as it was not closed for any period of time for renovation. The new website promises a "paradise private island", but it is not private - and at least one other resort, the Pestana Bazaruto Lodge, is located here. That aside, the six-island Bazaruto Archipelago is known as one of the most beautiful spots in Africa. Getting there is not quite the "seamless affair" promised on the website, as you'll have to fly to Johannesburg (non-stop with Cathay Pacific or South African Airways, or via Doha with Qatar Airways) then on to the Mozambique capital, Maputo, to catch another connecting flight to the island. But for an interesting destination, off the beaten track, this looks like a good option for those willing to make the effort. Note that most passport holders, including those from Hong Kong, Britain and the United States, require a visa. Some reports suggest they may be available on arrival but it would be best to check with the resort before booking. Dragon's den Newly opened this month is the JW Marriott Hanoi Hotel. The 450-room hotel is described as a "reverse skyscraper", which seems to be a fancy way of saying that it's a long low-rise. Looking not unlike the lair of a James Bond villain, the building is claimed to have been "inspired by the country's magnificent coastline and evokes characteristics of a dragon". One of those characteristics was unleashed last year, in August, when the partially completed hotel caught fire, putting its opening date back by about a year. For opening rates and a closer look at the hotel, visit www.marriott.com or use Google for more direct navigation. Deal of the week With the Japanese yen reaching near-record lows this month, the Japan Rail Pass is probably the best travel deal on the market right now. At 28,300 yen (HK$2,150) for seven days of unlimited rail travel, the pass hasn't seen a price increase for well over a decade. How long this will remain the case is anyone's guess, but for now you can purchase a Rail Pass voucher for redemption on arrival at any Japanese international airport (they are not for sale to Japanese citizens, who will gasp at your good fortune) from TLX Travel. See www.tlxtravel.com for details, and www.japanrailpass.net for information on how to use them to get around.